In 2007, Jim Allister, then one of the DUP’s MEP’s resigned from the party in protest over his parties’ agreement to form a coalition government with Sinn Fein.
In 2007, Jim Allister, then one of the Democratic Unionist Party’s MEPs, resigned from the party in protest over his party’s agreement to form a coalition government with Sinn Fein. In resigning, Allister made clear his concerns:
“I just cannot comprehend how the DUP can contemplate government, particularly where it will be joined at the hip in the Office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister, with an organisation which clings to an illegal army council of an illegal army.“
As a result of his deep rooted concerns, in December 2007, Allister launched a new political force in Northern Ireland, the Traditional Unionist Voice. In doing so, he set his new party up as an essentially anti-agreement party, declaring:
“With both Unionist parties now enthusiastically working and implementing the Belfast Agreement, Unionists who reject it are disenfranchised. This is not in the interests of Unionism, because it will encourage a diminishing unionist vote, as many feel they now have no one to vote for.
“Thus, with others, I have been persuaded of the necessity of providing an organisation to mobilise and give voice to such legitimate opinion.“
Since then, as the Belfast Telegraph has reported, Allister and the TUV have been a persistent thorn in the side of the DUP, mopping up support from those unionists aggrieved at the DUP’s decision to enter into government with Sinn Fein.
In last year’s European elections, the TUV secured 13.7 per cent of the vote, almost entirely at the expense of the DUP, a result which BBC Northern Ireland’s political editor Mark Davenport described as “stunning“. Similarly, in a withering attack on the DUP, Allister, an ardent opponent of the devolution of policing and justice powers, has said:
“Having succeeded so comprehensively at Hillsborough, it won’t be the last time Sinn Fein puts the gun to the DUP’s head. The DUP is on a conveyor belt of delivering whatever it takes to keep Sinn Fein happy.“
In his statement following the calling of the general election, Allister made clear that his party would be looking to gain support from DUP voters disaffected at the party’s partnership with Sinn Fein, and UUP voters fed up with the party’s close links with the Conservatives. The irony, however, is that the TUV’s appeal is likely to lead only to a further fracturing of the unionist vote, opening the door to the party’s arch republican opponents picking up an additional seat or two.
Despite apparent early successes however, the TUV go into the election with a number of questions to answer.
• In resigning from the party in July 2009, TUV councillor on Castlereagh Council, Charlie Tosh, accused Allister of running the party like a dictatorship;
• In his speech to the DUP’s annual conference last year, first minister Peter Robinson said: “Mr Allister remains content to play the politics of permanent opposition and perpetual negativity.”
• Just last week, the TUV failed in its bid to take legal action against Allister’s DUP rival in the race for North Antrim, Ian Paisley Jnr, distributing what they claimed were questionable leaflets; and
• How independent the TUV really are has recently been questioned by calls by Allister for his supporters to vote tactically for Conservative and Unionist candidates where TUV members were not standing.
It is unlikely the TUV will win a seat at this year’s election. However, it will be intriguing to see how much it is able to split the unionist vote, and hence help the republicans and nationalists pick up more seats.Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.